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Environmental impacts and implications of tropical carrageenophyte seaweed farming

TitleEnvironmental impacts and implications of tropical carrageenophyte seaweed farming
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsKelly E.LA, Cannon A.L, Smith JE
Date Published2020/02
Type of ArticleReview; Early Access
ISBN Number0888-8892
Accession NumberWOS:000514465200001
KeywordsAlgae; algas; arrecife de; bay; Biodiversity & Conservation; coral; coral reef; dugongs dugong-dugon; ecosystem; environmental impact; Environmental Sciences & Ecology; growth; gulf; impacto ambiental; kappaphycus-alvarezii; mannar; mariculture; pastos marinos; rhodophyta; seagrass; seagrass beds

Field-based cultivation of Kappaphycus and Eucheuma seaweeds is widespread across the tropics and is largely done to extract the polysaccharide carrageenan, which is used in commercial applications. Although such seaweed farming has been cited as a sustainable alternative livelihood to destructive fishing, there has not been a comprehensive review of its environmental impacts to assess its potential conservation benefit. We reviewed the peer-reviewed and industry gray literature to determine what is known about seaweed farming techniques and their impacts on local ecosystems, organisms, and ecosystem services. We identified 43 tropical or subtropical countries that are currently cultivating or have cultivated carrageenophytes. Ecosystem impacts of seaweed farming were measured directly in 33 publications with variable results. Placement of seaweed farms above seagrass beds led to reduced productivity and shoot density in 5 studies and reduced or altered meiofaunal abundance and diversity in 6 studies. On coral reefs, overgrowth of corals by farmed seaweed species was documented in 8 cases. Two studies showed changes to herbivorous fish communities in adjacent areas because seaweed farms changed the environment, whereas in 2 studies measures of overall abundance or diversity did not change. The impacts of seaweed farming may not be as destructive as some other human activities, but they should still be considered when establishing new farms or managing existing farm sites. Our findings are consistent with suggestions to mitigate impact on local ecosystems by shifting seaweed farms to deeper, sandy-bottom areas. However, some of these changes may adversely affect farmers and associated communities.

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